The Precious Blood of Jesus

An explanation on the importance of devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus.


Religion

The obligation to render to God His due is woven into the very nature of man. Men are rational creatures. As creatures, existence is not something that comes from oneself. As rational, men are capable of deducing this fact and attributing their existence to another. There is a debt of gratitude and homage to the One who has given that existence. Men, therefore, will look for ways to pay this debt through acts of religion. This does not necessarily qualify as supernatural religion; nevertheless, the obligation to render something to God is well established. Religion is that virtue by which men give to God His due.

Strictly speaking, it is impossible for the creature to pay this debt of religion. The gift given to men is more than they can return. In strict justice, since life is the gift, the only thing to be rendered to the Creator which meets this gift is the very life which was given. To take our own life in an act of religion is not permitted by God. It is therefore left to men to choose things from the created world and offer those to God.

While there is the external element that is offered (the thing from the created world), strictly speaking, the internal offering (the movement of the soul) is the more important element. The external element, however, has its use and benefit; the more necessary or precious the element, the more it serves to instruct the dispositions of soul. This is why in the Old Testament those things chosen for sacrifice were often things necessary for sustaining life. For the Church, it is the reason gold is used for sacred vessels—a precious element instructs men regarding the dispositions of soul.

This relationship between the exterior and the interior elements of sacrifice is seen in the sacrifices of Cain and Abel.

But to Cain and his offerings he had no respect: and Cain was exceedingly angry. And the Lord said to him: 'Why art thou angry? And why is thy countenance fallen? If thou do well, shalt thou not receive? But if ill, shall not sin be present at the door? '”[1]

The lack of respect for the offering of Cain is due to the lack of conformity of the interior element (his dispositions of soul) with the exterior element (the object he offered to God). In essence, it rendered his sacrifice fake.

Sacred

The use of created things as part of the religious expression of man has defined the sacred. In other words, men have set aside various objects to be used for religion. Aside from what man himself may put toward his religious acts, God has mandated various objects so as to establish the sacred. These objects would serve to instruct men as to their dispositions and act as a preparation for the coming of Christ.

There are several contributing factors in the formation of what is sacred. The first idea which establishes the concept of sacred is separation. Josef Pieper in his work In Search of the Sacred says:

Within the world’s total framework of space and time, accessible to man, there do exist specific exceptional and separated spaces and times, distinct from the ordinary, and therefore possessing a special and unique dignity.”[2]

To highlight what is meant by separation, we can take for example the formula for the production of incense according to the Mosaic Law. God mandated specifically this formula and he announced the punishment for violating his command. When the sons of Aaron violated the command of God, they were struck dead. This action of God certainly separated this incense and its use from any other in a most striking manner.

A second notion contained in the sacred is dedication. The separated action is to be dedicated to acts of religion and worship if it is be classified as sacred. This dedication indicates the purpose behind the separation. The playing of Taps at the death of a soldier is certainly a separated action, but it does not classify as sacred. The priest who begins his Mass at the foot of the altar—Introibo ad altare Dei—is performing a sacred action as it is dedicated solely to the worship of God.

Blood and life

These two ideas of separation and dedication are important for our topic. Throughout the history of the Old Testament, God, through various determinations and mandates establishes blood as sacred. God is the author of this separation; moreover, blood is given specific purposes which will reach their full meaning with Christ.

In following the history of the Old Testament, God directs and forms men concerning the sacredness of blood.

And everything that moveth and liveth shall be meat for you: even as the green herbs have I delivered them all to you: saving the flesh with blood you shall not eat. For I will require the blood of your lives at the hand of every beast, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man, and of his brother, will I require the life of man.”[3]

The prohibition to eat blood is confirmed later in the Old Testament:

Moreover, you shall not eat the blood of any creature whatsoever, whether of birds or of beasts. Everyone that eateth blood shall perish from among the people.”[4]

The reason given by God in setting apart the blood is contained in the following verses:

If by hunting or fowling, he take a wild beast or a bird, which is lawful to eat, let him pour out its blood, and cover it with earth. For the life of all flesh is in the blood: therefore I said to the children of Israel: You shall not eat the blood of any flesh at all, because the life of the flesh is in the blood, and whosoever eateth it, shall be cut off.”[5]

The connection of life to blood is thus established by God. This idea will carry its full import in the words of Jesus Who said:

Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath everlasting life.”[6]

Many stopped following Jesus when He preached these words. While the doctrine of the Holy Eucharist is to be explained, the shocking nature of the comment still remains for the Israelite who was commanded to avoid blood.

Blood and sacrifice

Another development by God contributing to the sacred character of blood is its use for sacrifice. Sacrifice is an act of religion, specifically and primarily an act of adoration. The end of sacrifice is to acknowledge God’s infinite excellence as well as man’s complete dependence upon Him. In this act, men dedicate and offer something to God. The thing offered stands in the place of or represents the one who offers. This victim undergoes some change or destruction which is symbolic of self-abasement and humility before God—even self-annihilation.

In the book of Leviticus we read:

If his offering be a holocaust, and of the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish at the door of the testimony, to make the Lord favorable to him: He shall put his hand upon the head of the victim and it shall be acceptable, and help to its expiation. And he shall immolate the calf before the Lord, and the priests, the sons of Aaron shall offer the blood thereof, pouring it round about the altar.”[7]

A quick read through the first nine chapters of this book will highlight the use of blood in sacrifice. In fact, the Old Testament religion was very bloody. In spite of the fact of being a very bloody liturgy, the use of blood in no way became common.

There is an additional element to be noted in this development of the sacredness of blood. Before the Mosaic Law and the Levitical priesthood, any of the patriarchs offering a sacrifice to God could do so when and where they wished. With the Law, this liberty is taken away; a specific place is given for the sacrifice and a specific person is required to carry it out.

Any man whosoever of the house of Israel if he kill an ox, or a sheep, or a goat in the camp, or without the camp and offer it not at the door of the tabernacle an oblation to the Lord shall be guilty of blood: as if he had shed blood, so shall he perish from the midst of his people.”[8]

This command directs the Israelites in one sacrifice, one place of sacrifice, and one who offers the sacrifice. These ideas are established thus so as to prepare the mind of men for the One Eternal High Priest who will offer the one yet perpetuated sacrifice of His life on the one altar of the cross.

Blood and expiation

Expiation is an additional element in the development of the sacredness of blood. It is with the fall of Adam from the state of original justice that sacrifice takes on the element of contrition/expiation.

If any man whosoever of the house of Israel, and of the strangers that sojourn among them, eat blood, I will set my face against his soul, and will cut him off from among his people: because the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you that you may make atonement with it upon the altar for your souls, and the blood may be for an expiation of the soul.”[9]

A further understanding of expiation is contributed with the use of the blood of the lamb in averting the destroying angel at the first Passover.

And dip a bunch of hyssop in the blood that is at the door, and sprinkle the transom of the door therewith and both the door cheeks: let none of you go out of the door of his house till morning. For the Lord will pass through striking the Egyptians: and when he shall see the blood on the transom, and on both the posts, he will pass over the door of the house and not suffer the destroyer to come into your houses and to hurt you.”[10]

Blood and redemption

Particularly important, which admittedly goes unnoticed, is the result of the firstborn Israelites being spared. The firstborn saved during this event are considered purchased.

Sanctify unto me every firstborn that openeth the womb among the children of Israel, as well of men as of beasts: for they are all mine.”[11]

The Israelites from that moment would have to buy back their firstborn from God. In having to do this, God ensures the Israelites will remember what He has done for them.

Every firstborn of men thou shalt redeem with a price. And when thy son will ask thee tomorrow, saying: What is this? Thou shalt answer him: With a strong hand did the Lord bring us forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. For when Pharao was hardened, and would not let us go, the Lord slew every firstborn of man to the firstborn of beasts: therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all that openeth the womb of the male sex, and all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.”[12]

The Israelites were thus groomed by God to grasp the idea of redemption. It is not by chance that Jesus suffered His Passion and death during the Passover celebration. St. John the Baptist proclaims Jesus to be the Lamb of God alluding to the lambs of sacrifice, particularly the Passover lamb. St. Paul develops the connection between Christ and the Passover proclaiming Christ our Pasch is sacrificed. It is by the blood of the Lamb we are cleansed and ransomed.

Blood and consecration

The word "consecration" means to make something holy or to determine a thing to a solely sacred use. Blood was used to dedicate persons and things to God.

In the ordination and consecration of Aaron the first priest of the order of Levi, we read:

And when thou hast sacrificed him, thou shalt take his blood, and put upon the tip of the right ear of Aaron and of his sons, and upon the thumbs and great toes of their right hand and foot, and thou shalt pour the blood upon the altar round about. And when thou hast taken of the blood that is upon the altar, and of the oil of unction, thou shalt sprinkle Aaron and his vesture, his sons and their vestments. And after they and their vestments are consecrated.”[13]

In the consecration of the altar of holocausts we read:

And taking some of the blood thou shalt put it upon the horns of the altar with thy finger, and the rest of the blood thou shalt pour at the bottom thereof.”[14]

And lastly, though the list is not exhausted, the Israelites themselves are a consecrated people:

And he took the blood and sprinkled it upon the people, and he said: This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words.”[15]

Blood and cleansing

Cleansing is another use of blood as directed by God. This idea is built around what God has directed to be clean and unclean, as well as legal impurity. In the ritual for cleansing a leper we read:

He shall immolate the lamb, where the victim of sin is wont to be immolated, and the holocaust, that is, in the holy place: for as that which is for sin, so also the victim for a trespass offering pertaineth to the priest: it is holy of holies. And the priest taking the blood of the victim that was immolated for trespass, shall put it upon the tip of the right ear of him that is cleansed, and upon the thumb of his right hand and the great toe of his right foot.”[16]

The idea of cleansing is also seen in the purification of a woman after childbirth. It was required that she offer a sacrifice, the blood of the victim being offered to cleanse her of legal impurity. It is noted that legal impurity was incurred for contact with blood. This is why women were separated seven days when having their issue of blood. The woman in the gospel who had a continuous issue of blood was continuously impure until the issue stopped.

An animal that died of natural means could not be eaten as it died with its blood in it. Tobias, in burying the dead during the night, was legally impure for having such contact with the bodies of the dead in which the blood remained. As blood is given a specific purpose by God, any contact with blood outside of that purpose would render one legally impure. This idea further keeps the extraordinary, uncommon, strictly reserved aspect of blood, thus contributing to its sacredness.

Fulfillment of the Old Law

What then is the purpose of such carefulness and precision on the part of God? In a homily chosen for the feast of the Precious Blood, St. John Chrysostom states:

Is sheep blood capable of delivering a human being? Yes, he says; not, of course, because it is blood, but because it foreshadows the Blood of the Lord.”[17]

God has formed and prepared the minds of men through the entire history of the Old Testament so as to know the value of the blood of Christ. This blood is the price of our salvation.

From the Old Testament, we can make assertions concerning the blood of Christ. These assertions are made by way of analogy—the comparison and association of different things by various shared elements. All the different examples enumerated above are the various analogates. The prime analogate is the blood of Christ. This is the one that is first in the mind of God and the very reason of the others—although it is the last to come about. The assertions made of the blood of Christ are the following:

  • His blood atones for sin
  • With His blood men are redeemed
  • His blood is the perpetual perfect sacrifice
  • The blood of Christ cleanses men from sin
  • Men are consecrated by the blood of Christ

Each one of these statements can be explained. Atonement is well defined by St. Thomas Aquinas:

He properly atones for an offense who offers something which the offended one loves equally, or even more than he detested the offense. But by suffering out of love and obedience, Christ gave more to God than was required to compensate for the offense of the whole human race.

First of all, because of the exceeding charity from which He suffered; secondly, on account of the dignity of His life which He laid down in atonement, for it was the life of the One who was God and man; thirdly, on account of the extent of the Passion, and the greatness of the grief endured.

And therefore Christ’s Passion was not only a sufficient but superabundant atonement for the sins of the human race; according to 1 John 2:2 He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also or those of the whole world.”[18]

Christ shed his blood during his Passion. This blood (and therefore His life) was offered to the offended God in benefit of offending men. The value of the blood of Christ outweighs the gravity of the sins of men.

Redemption is a term which completes the idea of atonement. Once again we turn to St. Thomas for clarity.

Since Christ’s Passion was a sufficient and superabundant atonement for the sin and the debt of the human race, it was as a price at the cost of which we were freed from both obligations.

For the atonement by which one satisfies for self or another is called price, by which he ransoms himself or someone else from sin and its penalty, according to Daniel 4:24: ‘Redeem thou thy sins with alms.’

Now Christ made satisfaction, not by giving money or anything of that sort, but by bestowing what was of greatest price—Himself—or us. And therefore Christ’s Passion is called our redemption.”[19]

In another place St. Thomas writes on how it is proper for Christ to be called redeemer:

For someone to redeem, two things are required—namely, the act of paying and the price paid. For if in the act of redeeming something a man pays a price which is not his own, but another’s, he is not said to be the chief redeemer, but rather the other is, whose price it is.

Now Christ’s blood or his bodily life, which is in the blood, is the price of our redemption (Lev. 17:11,14), and that life He paid. Hence both of these belong immediately to Christ as man; but to the Trinity as to the first and remote cause, to whom Christ’s life belonged as to its first author, and from whom Christ received the inspiration of suffering for us.

Consequently it is proper to Christ as man to be redeemer immediately; although the redemption may be ascribed to the whole Trinity as its first cause.”[20]

We may conclude this idea of redemption with St. Peter who writes:

Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things as gold or silver, from your vain conversation of the tradition of your fathers: But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled.”[21]

Perhaps one of the most important sources for the development of the sacrifice of Christ is St. Paul in his epistle to the Hebrews. The Apostle develops the excellence of Christ’s priesthood over the Levitical priesthood. With a greater priesthood there is a greater sacrifice. He writes:

We are sanctified by the oblation of the body of Jesus Christ once. And every priest indeed standeth daily ministering, and often offering the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man offering one sacrifice for sins, ever sitteth on the right hand of God, from henceforth expecting, until his enemies be made his footstool. For by one oblation he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.”[22]

Sacrifice is the means, the way chosen by God, of atonement and redemption. St. Thomas states:

A sacrifice properly so called is something done for that honor which is properly due to God, in order to appease Him: …Christ offered Himself up for us in the Passion: and this voluntary enduring of the Passion was most acceptable to God, as coming from charity. Therefore it is manifest that Christ’s Passion was a true sacrifice.”[23]

This sacrifice, prefigured in the Old Testament, was most pleasing to God for the redemption of men:

And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath delivered himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odor of sweetness.”[24]

St. Thomas will continue concerning the sacrifice of Christ, giving reasons why it is a most perfect sacrifice and most aptly suited for the redemption of men. Firstly, because the sacrifice is taken from our humanity, to be fittingly offered for men and partaken of by men. Secondly, being human, Christ was capable of suffering, and thus of offering that suffering and death for us. Thirdly, as Christ is sinless, His sinless flesh and blood are capable of cleansing men from sin. Lastly, the sacrifice being His own flesh and blood, it was acceptable to God because of the degree of charity He possessed.[25]

Cleansing is a common theme in Pauline theology. The Apostle points out on numerous occasions the inadequacy of the Old Testament sacrifices in touching the soul and cleansing the conscience.

How much more shall the blood of Christ, who by the Holy Ghost offered himself unspotted unto God, cleanse our conscience from dead works, to serve the living God?”[26]

The importance of cleansing may be noted in the sacraments. The sacraments are those instruments instituted by Jesus Christ to deliver the effects of His Passion to souls. Each of the sacraments has their power from the merits of Christ’s Passion. By the sacraments, the blood of Christ is applied to souls.

Lastly, let us consider briefly the idea of consecration. All things consecrated were done so with blood. With the death of the Lamb, His blood is sprinkled upon the people (as Moses in the former Testament sprinkled them); they are thus cleansed, sealed, and dedicated a new people to God.

...that by means of his death, for the redemption of those transgressions, they that are called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance.”[27]


Footnotes

1 Gen. 4:5-7.

2 Pieper, Joseph In Search of the Sacred, Ignatius Press; pg. 13.

3 Gen. 9:4-5.

4 Lev. 7:26-27.

5 Lev. 17:13-14.

6 John 6:54-55.

7 Lev. 1:3-5.

8 Lev. 17:3-4.

9 Lev. 17:10-11.

10 Ex. 12:22-23.

11 Ex. 13:2.

12 Ex. 13:13-15.

13 Ex. 29:20-21.

14 Ex. 29:12.

15 Ex. 23:8.

16 Lev. 14:13-14.

17 Brev. Roman. St. John Chrysos. Feast of Precious Blood.

18 Summ. Theol. III. Q.48:2.

19 Idem Q. 48::4.

20 Idem Q. 48:5.

21 1 Peter 1:18-19.

22 Heb. 10:10-14.

23 Summ. Theol. III, Q. 48:3.

24 Eph. 5:2.

25 Summ. Theol. III, Q. 48:3.ad1.

26 Heb. 9:14.

27 Heb. 9:15.